With a win yesterday afternoon the Colorado Avalanche are now in sole possession of the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. A win tonight will pull them into a tie with Dallas - a place that seemed impossible just a few short weeks ago.
Sweeping the home-and-home is going to be easier said than done, though, as it’s also desperation time for the Chicago Blackhawks. A regulation loss on Sunday will drop Chicago eight points out of a playoff spot, and all but eliminate them from contention.
The Avs have been able to claw their way back into the playoff conversation thanks to a four game winning streak, largely buoyed by some tremendous play from Philipp Grubauer.
Heading on the road for a third game in four days is never fun, but this is the gut-check point of the season. It’s a grueling stretch, but this is a game that will show just how badly this Avalanche team wants to make the post season.
The absence of Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen was noticeable on the shot clock yesterday, as the Avalanche were only able to generate 25 shots on net. Luckily, the team did well to take advantage of the chances they had. Nathan MacKinnon was held off the score sheet but he had a team-high five shots on net, all the while being double shifted most of the night.
Not only were the Avalanche able to win without two of the big-3, but they did so with Nathan MacKinnon on a season-high three game scoreless streak. In their absence, the youngsters like Jost, Compher and Kerfoot have been generating offense. At the same time, guys like Colin Wilson and Derick Brassard are stepping up in a big way and providing the veteran presence teams need at this time of year.
Rantanen is still day-to-day and will miss tonight’s game. There is some good news, however, as Coach Bednar mentioned that the team could be getting their captain back sooner than expected. Landeskog won’t play tonight, but his recovery is ahead of schedule — so we could see him back in the lineup later this week.
Alex Kerfoot - Nathan MacKinnon - J.T. Compher
Colin Wilson - Carl Soderberg - Sven Andrighetto
Derick Brassard - Tyson Jost - Matt Calvert
Andrew Agozzino - ———— - Gabriel Bourque
Sam Girard - Erik Johnson
Ian Cole - Tyson Barrie
Nikita Zadorov - Patrik Nemeth
The Blackhawks were able to dominate both the shot attempts and face-off circle yesterday, but it wasn’t enough to get the win. Dylan Strome led the way with four shots on net, but it was Jonathan Toews who was the only Chicago forward to find the back of the net.
With their playoff chances fading away, this is going to be a desperate team tonight because a loss would put them eight points back of the Avs and all but eliminate Chicago from the playoff race.
Dylan Sikura - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Alex DeBrincat - Dylan Strome - Brendan Perlini
Brandon Saad - Artem Anisimov - Dominik Kahun
Chris Kunitz - David Kampf - Marcus Kruger
Duncan Keith - Erik Gustafsson
Gustav Forsling - Brent Seabrook
Carl Dahlstrom - Connor Murphy
The assumption is that neither team will start their goalies back to back. That said, in a playoff race and with yesterday’s game being early, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Avalanche ride the hot hand, since Philipp Grubauer is the main reason why the team is back in a playoff spot.
Yesterday we saw Grubauer and Corey Crawford, which means tonight is likely to be Semyon Varlamov against Cam Ward. It would be Varlamov’s first start since March 15th.
**Reminder: tonight’s game won’t be on Altitude, as it will be broadcast nationally on NBCSN